Period Splendor: Walnut Hill
By: M. Callahan
For those who grew up in Annandale, the words Walnut Hill conger an image of Southern grandeur. Walnut Hill was a thirty acre estate built by Joseph L. and Antoinette Arnold in the 1940’s along Annandale Road. Gently rolling hills, expansive well manicured lawns, thoughtful landscaping, and a gracious circular driveway were on view for all to enjoy. The estate included the manor house, which was built to resemble Tara, a twelve stall stable, a mile long track for equine work-outs, a clover shaped swimming pool, a two story guest lodge, and a duck pond.
The manor house consisted of twelve rooms. Surprisingly, it only had three bedrooms, but each was the size of a basketball court while their sunken baths boasted marble steps and gold banisters. Each room was designed for maximum comfort and function. The Arnolds enjoyed hosting large dinner parties in a dining room which seated forty. The walls of the den were covered in elegant white leather. The trophy room sported as many trophies and equestrian ribbons as the spacious shelves and cupboards could accommodate. Behind the main house was another impressive structure, the Guest Lodge, which would dwarf the McMansions of today.
This Guest Lodge could seat 75 at the bar and 200 in the dining room. It had a full gymnasium plus a billiard table, male and female saunas and an open hearth with grill. The surrounding barbeque pit would serve 500. Before hotel and banquet space was available in this area, or even regional parks, local organizations often requested use of the Guest Lodge. In 1954 The Annandale Businessmen’s Association (now known as the Annandale Chamber of Commerce) held their Eighth Annual Banquet on March 17th in the Walnut Hill Lodge. The meal was prepared by Harvey’s Hickory House. They specialized in barbeque chicken and frequently booked catering commitments using the enormous grill and pit barbeque at Walnut Hill.
The Arnolds, owners of Arnold Bus Line, were generous members of the community who not only offered use of their Lodge but also welcomed neighborhood children and their sleds every snowfall. Ice skating on the duck pond became another winter activity eagerly embraced by the community as was feeding the ducks all year long. Consequently, the community held a protective and respectful interest in Walnut Hill.
When Mr. Arnold died, his widow remained in the house, and later remarried. In January 1964 she sold Walnut Hill to O. Roy Chalk for $654,000. Chalk had made millions in Manhattan real estate, owned Trans Caribbean Airways, newspapers and bus companies. He turned around the failing DC Transit Company and streamlined every aspect of the business. Upon purchase, he had been impressed with the efficiency of the DC street cars, but was pressured by the auto lobby, the Senate District Committee, city officials and the Washington Post to end the use of streetcars in favor of buses. By 1962 the era of streetcars in DC came to an end, but DC Transit continued to expand. A few years later the Arnold Bus Line was purchased, and the ownership of Walnut Hill transferred with the purchase.
In September of 1969 Chalk relisted the estate for $2,250,000 after using it to wine and dine politicians and notables. In 1972 he withdrew it from use by community and civic groups and tried to gain approval to build high rise apartments. The zoning was denied. Then he planned to lease it for $90,000/year with an option to buy for $1,500,000 to a gentleman’s club. The club boasted a future limited membership of 1000 Gentlemen of Distinction. The first 250 members would be charged $1,000 in membership, the remaining 750 members $2,000. Additionally, all would pay a $500 annual fee, a significant fee in 1972. If the special use permit had been granted by Fairfax County, Walnut Hill would have become The Bridge and Chess Country Club. Fortunately, it was not granted.
During the permitting process it was learned that the president of the club was a paroled felon who had spent three years in Lewisburg Penitentiary for interstate transportation of stolen vehicles. He had used an alias when signing the lease papers which made the county curious. His financial entanglements with ‘laundered money’ surfaced and the partnership was deemed an illegal corporation. Unable to sell the estate or rezone it, Chalk gutted the manor house of its fixtures, to include elaborate chandeliers and carved mantles. These he took to furnish his hacienda in the Caribbean, while leaving Walnut Hill to rot, along with a community who had grown to admire one owner and dislike the other. Annandale was just too small a playing field for this high roller, and his indifference was not concealed.
In 1980, the manor house was pulled down and a number of private residences were built with an average sales price of $369,000. The value of those homes was estimated to be in the $800-840,000 price range by 2007. Driving past this development, the beauty of the rolling topography can still be admired, and for those fortunate enough to have sled the hills, memories of a winter wonderland remain.
The Walnut Hill Estate or Arnold Estate was located at 3450 Annandale Road, Annandale, VA 22003. Read this and other history stories about Annandale and the local area:
ENDEAVOR News Magazine.
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